Diversity and Goodwill

July 27th, 2019 by Douglas McEncroe · No Comments · Leadership, Organizational Culture

GoodwillAbout a week ago American social psychologist and Professor of ethical Leadership at New York University, Jonathan Haidt held two public lectures in Sydney and Melbourne. In Haidt’s most recent book ,The Coddling of the American Mind,published in 2018, he expresses great concerns over the lack of trust between groups with different opinions or world views.

Haidt argues that this current situation is made worse by social media that groups like minded people together and tells them every day that their thinking is correct. This in turn, he argues, is further reinforced by our natural tribalism. Haidt believes that our minds are hard wired for what he calls “groupish righteousness” and that it is only over the last few centuries that we have partly overcome this, due to disciplined, rational reasoning.  This reasoning has been underpinned by a level of goodwill that assumes that other people, who may well think differently to us, do actually have the best interests of society at heart.

What will happen if this goodwill begins to disappear? I think we can see the answer to this is the worrying state of our western democracies.

Diversity of thought in our organisations

So how will  all of this play out in our organisations? If we believe the press and academia, we could easily think that diversity is limited to ethnicity, gender and sexuality. In reality, diversity is much more complex, it also covers different thinking approaches, values and interests. In today’s complex environment, organisations need all the diversity they can get. The question is however, if we are returning to a type of tribalism, how can organisations get the most out of the richness that diversity offers and avoid the tribal warfare that plagues so many companies.

Organisations need to consciously promote the exploration of different thinking processes, varied perceptions and needs of different parts of the organisation. They need to champion meetings, particularly between middle managers, from right across the organisation, and create processes in which people can communicate the pressures and challenges they are facing, their understanding of the situation their organisation is facing, and their insights about what is happening not only across the organisation but also in the market generally.

Simple exchanges are not enough

Organisations also need to reinforce goodwill, trust and respect. Built into the processes that underpin these meetings there must also exist the constant message of a common cause, a reminder that there is a general goodwill to try to find solutions that are in the interest of the majority. They also need to remind all employees that, although they may have their differences, they also have many things in common.

Communicating upwards

Finally, something must happen to these insights. Too often the great work of middle managers is lost in a jungle of organisational politics. Senior managers need to support these meetings, have direct access to the insights that come out of them and implement actions that take into account these insights.

Time is running out

Haidt is even more concerned for generation Z (those born after 1996) who have grown up on social media and who are now entering the workforce. This generation may well be even less prepared to deal with different perceptions that come out of diversity. He reminds us that the natural dynamics taking place in our societies make it even more important to actively manage a respectful exchange of differing perceptions. Left to our own devices we could easily fall into tribal feuds that will produce nothing good for our future organisations.


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